February 14, Saturday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Acts 19:24-7 (ESV): “For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. [25] These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. [26] And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. [27] And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.’  [28] When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”

When I was in college (before my Christian days), St. Patrick’s Day was a day when my friends and I would don something green, and then guzzle green beer at a party held in honor of a man whom I assumed was a wild party animal from antiquity.  So, I was genuinely shocked when I found out, while studying church history at a seminary, that nothing could be further from the truth.

14aAt age 16, Patrick, living in England, was captured by marauding pirates who took him to Ireland as a slave.  During six long years of captivity, Patrick found God.  Fortunately, he escaped and returned home where he eventually became a clergy of the Celtic Church (not Catholic).  But one day, an Irish man appeared in Patrick’s dream, saying, “We beseech you to come and walk among us once more.”  Despite whatever bitterness he might’ve had, Patrick returned in 432 and spent the next 30 years ministering among the Celtics.  As a result, not only was Ireland won to Christ, Western Europe was evangelized by Celtic missionaries who came out of his ministry.  Thus, I am still puzzled by how a day honoring a zealous missionary like Patrick has become a day of drunkenness and lewd behavior.

Valentine of the 3rd century, in whose honor Valentine’s Day is celebrated, was just as committed to God as Patrick.  Because not much is known about him, several versions of his life exist but they all agree on one thing: Valentine was martyred for trying to convince people to believe in Christ and ultimately refusing to deny Christ.  So, how did we end up with flowers, chocolates and cupids to celebrate a day named after a martyr for Jesus?

Businessmen, like Demetrius, have long figured out that the best way to reach into people’s pockets is to appeal to their devotion to God by associating it with slogans they promote (“Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”) to sell things they produce (religious figurines).  Before long, people, having forgotten the true reason for celebration, just celebrate with such things as green beer, chocolates and flowers!

14bSpoiling your Valentine’s Day celebration isn’t the purpose of this blog, but a reminder: “Don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (Rom. 12:1) that shifts with time and always empties your pocket.  Instead, hold onto what men like Patrick and Valentine truly stood for: their love for Jesus and their desire to serve Him.  So, if you have a hot date tonight, give your waitress an evangelistic tract with a good tip!

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 50-51

February 13, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Matt. 12:43-5 (NIV): “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. [44] Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. [45] Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

13aIt’s the job you’ve always wanted, and you thank the Lord for it.  However, after 3 years of the daily grind of meetings, conference calls and business trips, often skipping church on Sundays, you can hardly remember the last time you have prayed or opened the Bible.   The present condition is worse than the first!

The life of King Joash began quite inauspiciously.  His father, King Ahaziah of Judah, and mother were murdered soon after his birth; then, his grandmother Athaliah “proceeded to destroy the whole royal family” (2 Chron. 22:10) so that she could rule Judah.  Fortunately, someone rescued Joash and hid him at the temple for 6 years.  Imagine that—six years of not seeing the sunlight!

But the tide of life turned in Joash’s favor when Jehoiada the priest, after successfully ousting Athaliah, made him the king; he was seven years old.  And despite the sad and painful past, Joash, under the guidance of Jehoiada, “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (24:2), which included repairing the temple.

13bHowever, everything changed after Jehoiada died.  Joash, after heeding bad advice, “abandoned the temple of the LORD . . . and worshiped . . . idols” (18).  When Zechariah, the son of his mentor Jehoiada, spoke out, Joash, “not remember[ing] the kindness . . . Jehoiada had shown him” (22), killed him.   Consequently, “because Judah had forsaken the LORD,. . . judgment was executed on Joash” (24).  Not only was Judah defeated and looted by Aram, Joash was severely wounded as well.  What did him in were his officials who “killed him in his bed” (25). The final condition of Joash was worse than the first.

Today’s parable actually had Israel in mind (Matt. 12:38-43).  After comparing Israel’s unresponsiveness to His message to the responsiveness of the Ninevites to Jonah’s preaching, Jesus was underscoring the worsened condition of Israel’s heart.

How can we ensure that this doesn’t happen to us?  For starters, don’t leave your heart and mind unoccupied: Fill your heart with gratefulness (Heb. 12:28 ESV) and humility (1 Pet. 5:6); fill your mind with the knowledge of God’s word (Heb. 4:6).

Prayer

Dear Lord, I confess that I often do nothing about my declining spiritual life because to address it would mean having less time making money and doing the things that I enjoy.  God, I don’t want to hit rock bottom spiritually; there is nothing good there.  Help me to get serious about my spiritual life.  Fill me with the Spirit.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 49

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Lunch Break Study

Read 2 Pet. 2:20-22 (ESV): For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. [21] For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. [22] What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’”

2 Cor. 13:5 (ESV): “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

Rev. 2:4-5 (NASB): “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. [5] Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”

Question to Consider

  1. What concerns Peter? Why do you think that once the downward spiritual spiral is set off, the eventual condition often becomes worse than the initial condition?
  2. What does Paul suggest that we do to keep us from the downward spiritual spiral? How do we do this?
  3. What should we do once we realize what is causing us to be distant from God?

Notes

  1. He had the same concern that Christ had: the later state becoming worse than the former.Living the Christian life is not easy when temptations lurk everywhere. Anytime Christians sin rather ostentatiously, some probably expect divine punishment.  When that doesn’t happen, they become emboldened to push the envelope.  And once the devil, who always looks for someone (especially Christians) to devour (1 Pet. 5:8) is added to the mix, it can get exponentially worse.
  2. Paul recommends self-spiritual examination. How?  I think we need to be honest about ourselves in the following areas: time spent praying, reading the word, offering, participating in church’s spiritual activities, etc.  Some criteria are a matter of the heart: Do I really love God?  Am I really dependent on Him? Do I even think about God? Do I truly believe in God?”
  3. Once we realize what or who is causing our downward spiritual spiral, God expects us to repent; that is, turn from the situation or person responsible for aiding and abetting our downward spiral. Example:  when we first got married, we had an old black and white television set.  We weren’t T.V. addicts, but we did watch Honeymooners that came on at 11:30 PM.  Once we realize how much we loved that show, yet it affected our getting up in the morning (and morning devotions), we decided to get rid of the T.V.

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 Evening Reflection

Based on how you lived today (what you did, who you hung around with, what you said), examine your spiritual life.  Do you need changes?  In what areas?  Giving?  Character?  Spending?  Viewing habit?  Forgiveness?  Desire?  Relationship?  Figure it out and work on it.  First step is to ask God for help.

February 12, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Matt. 12:24-9 (ESV): But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’ [25] Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [26] And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? [27] And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. [28] But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

[29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.’”

To someone who says, “There are no absolute truths; everything is relative,” ask him whether he holds to that absolutely.  If he says yes, then say, “You’re inconsistent and arrogant; if he answers no, ask him, “Then, why do you oppose what I believe?”

12aHere, Jesus, likewise, shows the absurdity of an argument aimed to discredit him.  The Pharisees, jealous that “the whole world has gone after [Jesus]” (Jn. 12:19), accuses him of being on the same team as the head of demons.  Jesus’ logic is simple: “If the devil and I are partners, why am I casting out his demons?   Isn’t that like shooting yourself in the foot?”

After silencing them, Jesus explains the spiritual world through this odd parable.  The strong man is the devil, “the prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31); his house, then, is the world.  The goods in the house are people in the world over whom the devil “holds the power of death” (Heb. 2:14).  How did this happen?  When the devil was tempting Jesus, it wasn’t a lie when he said, “All the kingdoms of the world . . . [had] been given to me” (Lk. 4:5-6).  The first man Adam, whom God had put in charge of governing the world, gave it away when he capitulated to the devil’s ploy, “for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:19).  Since “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), the devil bullies the descendants of Adam with fear of death.

12bSo Christ, coming into this world as an intruder to take back what was taken by the devil, must first bind the strong man.  He succeeded when his substitutionary death on our behalf “rendered powerless [the devil] who had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14 NASB) since the penalty of sin has been paid.

Now, Christ through the church is plundering the house, meaning telling people that they are now free.  But many choose not to believe that; as a result, they continue to live in “slavery by their fear of death.”  Are you one of them?  Christ has already finished everything to free you; all you need to do is believe.

Prayer

I praise You, Jesus, for coming into this world that had rebelled against God and chose the devil as its god.  Seeing that we are miserable in our sins, You voluntarily took the penalty of our sins to destroy the work of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8), thereby freeing us.  Thank You, Jesus, for your love, kindness and grace.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 48

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Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Jn. 5:18 (NIV): “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.”

James 4:7 (NASB): “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Acts 16:16-8 (ESV): “As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. [17] She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ [18] And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.”

Question to Consider

  1. What are some benefits of Christ’s victory over the devil?
  2. Is there a part that we need contribute in order to experience Christ’s victory over the devil?
  3. The Bible talks about not giving the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:27). What are some casual habits or “harmless” sins in our lives that give the enemy a bigger hold to latch on to enslave us?

Notes

  1. The devil cannot harm those who are in Christ; he will even flee from us; he can be driven out from someone or even from us in the name of Jesus.
  2. We cannot continue to sin (habitual and unrepentant sins); we must resist the devil for him to flee; we must pray with the authority of Jesus by praying in His name.
  3. Sin is much like a snowball rolling downhill: it gets bigger and bigger unless it is stopped.  An attempt to cover a little lie produces more lies; watching soft-porn leads to hard-porn; unforgiveness, in time, turns into a bitter personality; hoarding money always turns into loving it.

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 Evening Reflection

As you review this day, did you face any situation where you felt uncomfortable because of the presence of some people?  Why do you think that happened?  The path to freedom in many cases is honesty and humility.  Pray to the Lord for wisdom and courage to live fully in the freedom that Christ has won for us.

February 11, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 16:10-13 (NIV): “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. [11] So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? [12] And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? [13] “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

11aServing God is not only important, but it can be quite exciting.  Let’s suppose that teaching the Bible interests you, but on what basis will your pastor give you that kind of responsibility?  Similarly, in order for a baseball player to move up the ladder to one day reach the Major League, he needs to demonstrate his ability to hit and pitch better than others in the Minor League.  One major difference:  while God looks for faithfulness and honesty to evaluate, a baseball GM evaluates solely on output.

Now, desiring to do something more influential or substantial for God is honorable: “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).  So, how does God determine whether someone can handle greater responsibility from Him?

11bFor that, look at Joseph who had every reason to quit on life.  First, after his brothers’ betrayal, he became a slave in the house of an Egyptian official.  Instead of pouting, Joseph so faithfully carried out his task that his boss “entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Gn. 39:4).   But his life quickly hit rock-bottom when a false accusation landed him in jail. (It’s like going from AAA to A league).  But rather than giving up, he continued to work faithfully; seeing this, the warden “put Joseph in charge . . . [of] all that was done there” (39:22).  And it was from that pit that God brought Joseph out and “put [him] in charge of the whole land of Egypt” (41:41).  What does this show? “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).

The parable itself deals with another important factor used to determine our faithfulness: how we handle money.  If we’re stingy and not generous toward God and people in need, then it would affect whether or not God will trust us with the true riches, which include greater ministry responsibilities.

So, if you haven’t been faithful in this area, be generous toward God and those in need.  Start today.

Prayer

O heavenly Father, I praise and exalt You.  So often I live with a delusion that I’ve been blessed because I have worked so hard.  But apart from the strength, ability and investment You’ve made in my life, I cannot do anything.  Awake my soul, O Lord, to radically use this worldly wealth for your kingdom work.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 47

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Lunch Break Study

Read Col. 3:22-3 (NIV):  “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters . . . .”

1 Tim. 6:2 (NIV): “Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.”

Tit. 2:9-10 (NASB): “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, [10] not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.”

Question to Consider

  1. What are some factors behind why people, in general, are unfaithful in their work, including God’s work?
  2. What understanding can help us to be more faithful to God’s work as well as our secular work?
  3. How is your faithfulness? What adjustments are needed for you to be more faithful to God?

Notes

  1. We are so accustomed to doing our best only when someone is around that when no one is watching, we take it easy. Sometimes, because we are on friendly terms with our coworkers or bosses, we don’t listen as readily as we should.  And oftentimes, we steal company time to do our own thing (e.g., web surfing, plan our trips with the company time and computer).
  2. First, being aware that God is watching us all the time; second, as far as secular work is concerned, our faithfulness matters to God as well. For example, if you are a carpenter, it matters to God that you make quality chairs.
  3. I think many of us are battling over wasting too much time with our electronic gadgets.   These are necessities, since so much of what we do for work depends on it, but every time we open our iPhone or tablet, it is so easy to get distracted and waste time. For some, it is a matter of reprioritizing:  we need to put God before all things (Matt. 6:33).

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 Evening Reflection

Anything can be God’s work, even giving a cup of cold water to “one of these little ones” (Matt. 10:42).  Do feel like you did God’s work today, or did you pass up some golden opportunities?  Did anyone do God’s work on your behalf?  Pray about how you can be more pro-active in serving God tomorrow.

February 10, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 16:8-9 (NIV): For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. [9] I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

1 Sam. 25:11 (NIV): Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? . . .  [11] Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

2 Sam. 17:27-8 (ESV): When David came to Mahanaim,. . . Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, [28] brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, [29] honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.

A very successful professional, who also owns many properties, initially agreed to the idea that his wealth ought to be used for God’s work.   But he balked at the suggestion that he sponsor a needy child abroad: a monthly support of $38 was too expensive.

10Nabal from the OT era, described as “very wealthy” for owning 1,000 goats and 3,000 sheep, and this 21st century man have this in common: Not using worldly wealth to gain friends for themselves.  During the days when David and his men roamed around to escape from the murderous pursuit of King Saul, they, in effect, protected Nabal’s sheep that were grazing out on the field.  In fact, Nabal’s servants told their boss, “These men were very good to us” (1 Sam. 25:15).  So, when the festive time of sheep-shearing came, David asked Nabal to share “whatever [he] can find for them” (8).  Nabal didn’t gain any friend when he responded, “Why should I take my bread . . . and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (11).  David, responding to Nabal’s foolishness with his own imprudence, sought to kill him!  Fortunately, though the intervention of Nabal’s wife, Abigail, kept that from happening, Nabal soon died of heart failure upon being told later about David’s plot.

Then there is Barzillai, “a very old man” who is also described as “very wealthy” (2 Sam. 19:31-2).    By this time, David was the king—now being chased by his son Absalom who sought to kill him.  Barzillai, when told of David’s dire predicament (“hungry and weary and thirsty”), “provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim” (32).  Once restored to the throne, David didn’t forget Barzillai’s act of kindness, saying to him, “Stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you” (33).

Like Barzillai, let’s use our worldly wealth to help someone in need in Jesus’ name, so that when we arrive in heaven, that person will join God in welcoming us, saying to the Lord, “That’s the person who helped me to experience Your love.”  Do something generous with your worldly wealth today.

Prayer

Dear Lord, I exalt your name on high, especially because of the many blessings given to me.  Forgive me for hoarding it instead of sharing it.  O God, help me to be prudent with what You have given me in light of eternity.  Help me to let go so that I may gain friends in anticipation of joining You in heaven.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 46

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Lunch Break Study

Read Lk. 12:13-21 (NASB): Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” [14] But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” [15] Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” [16] And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. [17] And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ [18] Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ [20] But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ [21] So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

1 Tim. 6:7-8 (NIV):  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. [8] But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Question to Consider

  1. Why was this parable told at this place?
  2. What makes the life of this rich man so foolish?
  3. What insight would have helped his man to have lived more wisely?  How should this change the way you invest toward your future?

Notes

  1. The man in the crowd was solely preoccupied with gaining his rightful share of his father’s inheritance. He didn’t really care its affect on his family; in other words, for the sake of money, he was about to discard the more important things in life.
  2. The rich man is a fool because he never got to enjoy what he had stored in his big barn; instead, someone else was going to enjoy it. In the meantime, assuming that he was a believer, since he didn’t invest any of his wealth toward his eternity, he won’t have any “dividends” waiting for him in heaven.
  3. What Paul wrote was first said by Job: “Naked I came from mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:20). We must distinguish our needs from our wants: once we make our wants as something we need, then, we’re likely to act like this “someone in the crowd” represented by the rich fool.

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 Evening Reflection

Review all the purchases you have made today: What does that say about the values you uphold?  Does it indicate that you are trying to make friends using your worldly wealth?  Reflect on this issue; begin making some changes in how you use the money that God has given you.

February 9, Monday

Note: The devotion for Feb. 9-11 is based on the Shrewd Manager; read it in its entirety today.

Lk. 16:1-9 (NIV): Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. [2] So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ [3] The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— [4] I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ [5] So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ [6] ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ [7] “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ [8] The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. [9] I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 16:14 (ESV): “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.”

9This isn’t the type of illustration that pastors would dare to use from the pulpit. There are several glaring character defects in this manger which no one should emulate.   First, he is irresponsible, which got him in trouble with his master who lost money due to the manager’s negligence.   Second, he is a lazy freeloader.   About to lose his job, he is sure about one thing: “I’m going to neither dig (i.e., work) nor beg” (i.e., swallow my pride). Third, he is a criminal. Changing the numbers around in the accounting ledger so that the debtors appear to owe far less is no different from a desperate student sneaking into the registrar’s office to alter his grade: a reduction of olive oil by 450 gallons would’ve cost the master as much as $5,400 today.

Nevertheless, Jesus has the victim of this ruse commend his “dishonest manager” on account that he “acted shrewdly.” I would be hard pressed to use this sort of example before a group of businessmen lest they think it is okay to do the same.

Why, then, does Jesus opt for this parable? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and this certainly was a desperate time. The Pharisees, leaders whom God placed in Israel to lead the people spiritually, were too busy fattening their wallets and increasing their own prominence. Jesus told this parable because of “the Pharisees who loved money” (16:14); they also “love[d] the most important seats in the synagogue” (11:44). Consequently, people became “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34).

So to shake up the Pharisees, Jesus elevates the very person whom they would condemn, and justifiably so, because this dishonest manager does one thing better than them: preparing for the future. While the manager plans ahead to secure a better earthly future for himself, the Pharisees are doing nothing—like using their money to reach people for God (“use worldly wealth to gain friends”)—to secure a better heavenly future (“welcomed into eternal dwelling”) for themselves (e.g., God’s commendation, rewards).

So, are you using your money to secure a better future in heaven? It is never late; start today.

Prayer

O God, keep my eyes open so that I never forget to see what this earthly life is for: to receive the blessings and talents You’ve reserved for me so that I can use them to reach more people for Jesus Christ. Thank You that You would even reward me for giving a cup of cold water to someone in need. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 45

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Lunch Break Study

Read Jer. 35:2, 6-8, 12-4, 19 (NIV): Go to the Rekabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the Lord and give them wine to drink. . . . [6] But they replied, “We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jehonadab son of Rekab gave us this command: ‘Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine. [7] Also you must never build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards; you must never have any of these things, but must always live in tents. Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.’ [8] We have obeyed everything our forefather Jehonadab son of Rekab commanded us. . . .” [12] Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying: [13] “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the Lord. [14] ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab ordered his descendants not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. . . .’” [19] “Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.’

Prov. 6:6-9 (NIV): “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise ! [7] It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, [8] yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. [9] How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?”

Question to Consider

  1. If there is something to be learned from a dishonest manager, then there certainly must be something we can learn from the Rekabite family?
  2. What are we to learn from ants?
  3. Can you think of anyone not necessarily admirable (group or even animal) from whom we can learn something positive?

Notes

  1. The Rekabites obeyed the words of their progenitor even though it restricted their desire (to drink wine) and freedom (live in a permanent housing). God is saying: Obey me even if it hurts at first; in the long run it will actually benefit you (the Rekabites were rewarded for their obedience).
  2. Learn from the ants these things: first, think about your future; second, anticipate needs; third, make appropriate preparations now for your future needs.
  3. From the Mormons we can learn giving (even if they are swayed by wrong theology). It is believed that they give 7.5 percent of their income; from the Jehovah’s Witnesses we can learn tireless sharing of faith door-to-door. They are relentless in proclaiming their misguided message.

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 Evening Reflection

Based on how you spent your money today, are you a good investor in the spiritual realm? Take a moment to reflect; ask God to help you not to love money but save and use it prudently. Pray.

February 8, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

10:29, 36-7 (NIV): [29] But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” . . . . [36] “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” [37] The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Many parables fall in the category of “a story within a story” –one story is told during the action of another story.  While the parable of the Good Samaritan tells the importance of loving our neighbors, regardless of whether we like them or not, the intention of Christ is to use this parable to address a more pressing matter.

It all begins with an expert in the law who is unsure about whether he has eternal life.  Having grown up under the Mosaic Law, which stipulated that “the man who does these things will live” eternally (Rom. 10:5), something wasn’t quite right and he wondered:  “How come I lack assurance of eternal life despite having kept all the laws of God?”  Jesus goes immediately to the root of his problem and asks, “What is written in the Law?” (Lk. 10:26).  That is too easy of a question for the lawyer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and love your neighbors as yourself” (27).   If he felt validated upon hearing Jesus say, “You have answered correctly” (28a), it doesn’t last long because the Lord quickly adds, “Do this and you will live.”  The lawyer is no dummy; he knows what that implies: Contrary to his own self-assessment, he has failed to, according to Jesus, love his neighbors.  Disagreeing with this and somewhat offended by Jesus, the lawyer defends himself by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”

8The parable demonstrates that while Samaritans are willing to help a Jew in need, the Jews, including this lawyer, will never do that for Samaritans whom they despise as unholy.  When Jesus asks, “Which of these three . . . was a neighbor to the man who fell in the hands of the robber?” and the lawyer’s responds, “The one who had mercy on him” (i.e., the Samaritan), that is a self-admission of guilt: If being a neighbor means having mercy on anyone who is in need of it—regardless of whether he belongs to my tribe or not, then I haven’t kept all of God’s laws because I have not loved the Samaritans.

At no point does Jesus actually give him the gospel.  When Jesus says, “Do this and you will live” (28), He  shows that that path never works because “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).  Since the lawyer has broken at least one law, which makes him a sinner, the reason why he cannot have assurance of eternal life is because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

Now that “through the law [the lawyer has] become conscious of sin” (3:20), he is ready to hear and then respond to the gospel: Jesus Christ, who “bore our sins” (1 Pet. 2:24), “died for all” (Rom. 5:15), and . . . by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31).  If you haven’t made that decision, believe the gospel today; if you already have, then have mercy on someone of other tribe today.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 44

February 7, Saturday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 10:31, 33-5 (NLT):  “By chance a priest came along.  But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. . . . Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. [34] Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.  Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. [35] The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’”

Matt. 5:40-1 (NIV): “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. [41] If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

7Allegorizing the Bible can be fun to listen to because it attempts to dig out the “deep” and “hidden” meaning.   One seasoned preached allegorized this parable in this way: the priest who walked away represents world religions that cannot save; the wine used to clean the wound points to the redemptive sacrifice of Christ; the olive oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit; the inn represents the church (“God cares for us through the church”); the two coins refer to the Old and New Testament.   Though his points may be edifying, his interpretation wasn’t exactly exegetically sound (i.e., reading into the text instead of extracting the meaning).   Ironically, the preacher never bothered to address the obvious meaning of the parable staring right at him: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).

Most of the time, if we help someone at all, we do what we can within our schedule and/or budget; we don’t want to be inconvenienced too much.  Sometimes, we do just enough to make us feel good (I know about these things, I am an expert at it).  But this Samaritan gives not only his tunic but also his cloak; goes not only one mile but two; and this is all done for a Jew who would have despised him in a heartbeat.

Christ has set the bar high for Christians: “Anyone who has faith in me . . . will do even greater things than these” (Jn. 14:12).   Of course, here, Christ was referring to “miracles,” such as healing; however, isn’t one great miracle of the Lord transforming the bitter and jaded hearts like ours into a loving and kind heart that reaches out to “one of the least of these”?  Thus, if I were the aforementioned preacher, I would have added that this Samaritan represents “a new creation” in which “the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).  So profoundly touched by Christ who died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8), he has rejected the old way of hating his unlikable neighbors to loving and caring for them.

Working part-time while attending college, I had some money in the bank.  As I was praying one day, the Lord impressed me to send a check for $100 to a widow with two children living in another state, but there was just one problem: she was the director of the choir I was in, and I never really liked her.    Well, I sent the check to her anyway.  A few years later when we met, she expressed how much that gift meant to her.  I was thankful that God could use someone like me to encourage her!  Today, do something kind to someone who you don’t really like—yes, the bar is set high.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 42-43

February 6, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 10:33-7 (NIV): But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. [34] He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. [35] The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

6aFollowing the aftermath of the L. A. riots in 1992, our church, consisting mostly of Korean-Americans, donated food to a black church in L.A.  To that, a close relative commented, “Why would you do that?  So that they can beat up some more Koreans?”  Some years later, as our church decided to adopt a Japanese unreached group to support the missions work there, church member who grew up in Korea loudly complained, “No, not Japan!”

The Jews listening to this parable in which a Samaritan becomes a hero, probably felt uncomfortable.  This man, upon seeing a Jew whose people have taunted him for years, does not pass by him in glee; instead he attends to his desperate need.  Meanwhile, other Jews who should’ve helped him completely ignored him.

My relative was upset because he felt resentful towards the African-Americans, some of whom destroyed stores owned by Koreans.   In 1992, Jesus might have had him pass by an injured African-American.  The person who grew up in Korea complained because he remembered Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea during the World War II.  In 1940, Jesus might have had him pass by an injured Japanese.

6bSo, why would a Jew feel uncomfortable hearing this parable?  Because Jews wouldn’t do that for Samaritans, since they were considered a contemptible racial hybrid who disrespected their religion.  The Samaritans, as offspring of the intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles (2 Ki. 17:24), deviated from Judaism by rejecting all but the first five books of the OT, insisting that the center of worship was mountain Gerizim instead of Jerusalem.

The message of the parable is to love our neighbors, even the unlikable ones.  But why should we?  Perhaps, this Samaritan represents Jesus; after all, he was accused of being a Samaritan (Jn. 8:48).  Christ is the one who “has made the two (i.e., the Jews and Gentiles) one and has destroyed the barrier” (Eph. 2:14).  And though he “was despised and rejected by men,. . . he poured out his life unto death . . . [bearing] the sin of many” (Is. 53:3, 12).   Therefore, loving our unlovable neighbors, though difficult, is possible in Christ who showed us the way.  So, don’t pass by; show compassion.

Prayer

“Praise the LORD, O my soul.  O LORD my God, you are very great” (Ps. 104:1).  Your magnificent and awesome love for me expressed on the cross leaves me speechless and breathless.  As You have loved me so richly, I love You with all my heart; and because You love me, I shall love my neighbors.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 41

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Lunch Break Study

Read Jn. 13:34-5 (ESV): “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Matt. 5:43-7 (ESV): You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47] And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

Question to Consider

  1. What is Jesus’ expectation of us? Why does he expect this?
  2. We take discipleship classes to be a disciple. Why is doing that necessary to be a disciple but is never sufficient?
  3. What kind of love does Christ expect from us? How are you doing with loving the unlovable?

Notes

  1. Christ’s expectation is for us to be countercultural: since the culture dictates that we hate those who belong to groups that have harmed our ancestors, the followers of Christ declare “No” to it. Christ expects this because even unbelievers are capable of reciprocal love.
  2. Discipleship, in short, is imitating Christ in his character; it is walking as Jesus walked (1 Jn. 2:6). Having the right knowledge about how Christ walked on earth is invaluable, but ultimately, we must put that into practice.  Love cannot stay as mere knowledge; it must be applied.
  3. He expects unconditional, costly, radical and countercultural kind of love. I find myself constantly making compromises in this area of loving the unlovable (sometimes it’s my kid).  In some cases, apart from earnest prayer and deep introspection into Christ’s example, it just won’t happen.

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 Evening Reflection

Do you usually stay within your ethnic/racial group or do you try to reach out?  This should never be a “fashion” statement but an earnest expression of our Lord who said, “Here there is no Greek or Jew. . . slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).  Examine your heart regarding racial matters.   Spend a moment praying for genuine healing to take place over the racial tensions in America.

February 5, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 10:29-31 (NASB)“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. [31] And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. [32] Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

Lev. 21:1 (ESV):Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them:

‘No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people. . . .’

Many Korean churches list the names of the church members who tithe in their Sunday bulletin.   Naturally, most people would check to see, first, whether their name is included in the list, and second, whose name is not there.  So, does this practice generate more revenues for the church?  Not necessarily, since some people put whatever amount in an envelope and then write, “Tithe.”  Apostle Paul would refer to that as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

5In many ways, the priest and Levite in the parable were no different: they appeared quite godly since they obeyed God’s law that kept the priests from touching the dead lest they became defiled.  Especially on this day, the priest and Levite couldn’t afford to do that since, presumably, they were heading to Jerusalem because it was their division’s turn to serve in the temple.   Knowing full well of the consequence of touching a dead body—“Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days” (Num. 19:11)—they weren’t about to jeopardize this long awaited opportunity to shine.

But there was just one problem: the man wasn’t quite dead.  Before these two made a wide turn to pass by the other side, they were close enough to hear and see a man writhing in pain.   Had they touched him to help, while their fine outfit might’ve been stained by the man’s blood, it wouldn’t have made them unclean.   Thus, not helping wasn’t so much that they were concerned about being defiled but that they eschewed being inconvenienced and “look[ing] out for . . . the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4); nothing was going to stop them from getting what they wanted.  And like a criminal with a perfect alibi, these two had a perfect excuse: We thought he was dead and didn’t want to be late for the temple work.

Is looking good before people and getting what you want really important to you?  When we live like that, we miss out on opportunities to love our neighbors in need.   Let’s live our lives with a form of godliness without denying its power.  When you see an opportunity love a neighbor today, just do it!

Prayer

Lord, who isn’t guilty of desiring the praise of men rather than God?  I’m guilty of that a thousand times over.  How many times have I pretended to be holy before men when I was full of envy and resentment!  Forgive my sins and help me to care more about what You think than what men think.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 40

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Lunch Break Study

Read Matt. 6:1-4 (NASB): “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. [2] So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  [3] But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, [4] so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Heb. 6:10 (NIV): God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Question to Consider

  1. What drove these people to do good deeds?
  2. What drives people to act like that? What do they want?
  3. What should motivate us to do good deeds? What are some areas in your life that are driven by your desire to appear godly while denying  its power?

Notes

  1. They really craved for people’s approval; they wanted people to think that they were really righteous, generous and kind. Is it insecurity or having been reared without receiving much love?  Or, is it a result of being praised too often?
  2. Ultimately, it is because they have no relationship with God, by choice. They have little or no relationship with God because they don’t prioritize spending time with God.  People who hunger for immediate gratification find God’s response too slow and God’s presence too intangible.
  3. By faith we do good because it matters to God; we do good because of its inherent goodness; we do good because it helps people; and it is okay to do good, knowing that God will reward us.

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 Evening Reflection

Did we face a situation today where we acted and talked holier and more loving than what we really were inside?  How can we walk more authentically with others and with the Lord?  Among other things, it won’t happen without spending some alone time with Him: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).